Tuesday, August 31, 2010


After the slideshow on modern art in relation to the Bloomsbury group, I realized how much “Kew Gardens” reminded me of a painting. It is an interesting notion that literature and words can recall the notion of a painting, because the two mediums are very different. Still, the amount of color description and Woolf’s concentration on one particular place makes me visualize that one particular part of Kew Gardens on that one particular day with those particular people. It is a bit of a mixture of an impressionist painting, capturing the impression of the gardens throughout a period of time – a bit like Monet’s “Cathedral of Rouen”, which he tried to capture in many painting at different times of the day. At the same time, it is very much like Balla’s “Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash” in that Woolf makes many references to time and space and people’s movement through both. Everyone in the painting of this story would look like the dog, blurry, with almost a trail of themselves dissolving behind them. The first couple especially talks of the past and people’s ghosts that inhabit the places they once visited, as if our existence is continuous, unending and we leave these seemingly imperceptible traces of ourselves everywhere we are. Thus, the couple walks away, eventually becoming transparent, as if dissolved in time and space.

What is also very interesting is Woolf’s repeated usage of imagery that often relates to her own childhood and her life in general. St. Ives, Talland House, lighthouses, flowers are all intertwined with her writing and I wonder whether a memoir such as A Sketch of the Past and even writing in general provided  Woolf with means of coping with various traumatic things that happened in her life – many deaths, sexual abuse, mental illness. She is very different from other writers, which is what makes me wonder about this – would she write as much, or at all, had she not experienced all these things? I suppose I just cannot think of another writer that includes so much of his or her own life and memories into writing, although all writers do this to varying extent. It definitely works to show just how the mind works – the influence of childhood, past events, traumatic or not, various, even the smallest things, and how all of this, whether we are conscious of it or not, stays with us for the rest of our lives and shows in different ways – in Woolf’s case, through her writing. But at the same time, does it show how an ordinary mind works, or how Woolf’s mind works. I guess this is what I have been struggling with for these past couple of weeks – even in “The Mark on the Wall”, we do not experience a real person’s mind, we experience what Woolf believes to be this character’s mind, but one can never truly know the mind of another person. We cannot experience other people like that, we only see them like other people see Jacob Flanders – from the outside.

“The Mark on the Wall” was a bit problematic for me, because Woolf uses the ambiguous mark for one purpose only – to start a chain of thought. It is very arbitrary to me, because the character sits there, staring at the mark and thinking of various unrelated things only because Woolf wants her to and the flow of thoughts we read is one that Woolf has made up, and so we are left with what perhaps Woolf would have done and thought had she seen a mark on her wall. Someone else might have just stood up and actually checked what it was. At the same time, I am writing this today, a century later, when literature has gone through a lot of changes since the time Woolf wrote. I understand that at that particular time, not many people wrote these kinds of stories and England was still reading the “materialists” as Woolf called them. She was one of the first to write about the human mind and how she thought it works. So perhaps I would have looked at it differently had I lived then, but now, after many stream of consciousness novels and experiences, I find “The Mark on the Wall” a little arbitrary. 

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